Right2Information

Right to Information – Master key to good governance

RTI, RIP

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 29, 2006

RTI, RIP
 
Buiness Standard / New Delhi July 28, 2006
 
 
 
On the face of it, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done the right thing by not completely giving in to the bureaucracy and by allowing file notings to be made available under the Right to Information (RTI) Act insofar as they relate to plans, schemes, programmes and projects that relate to “development and social issues”. While the Chief Information Commissioner has been of the view that all file notings (except where it is an ongoing matter) are covered by the RTI, the bureaucracy has been equally adamant on the issue. The law ministry’s advice was sought on the matter. Now the Cabinet has decided to change the law, and access to file notings will be made highly selective. Given that the bulk of RTI petitions so far have come from within the government, by officials wanting to know about transfers and postings, of colleagues as well as themselves, the move appears logical. After all, which organisation would want internal assessments for promotions/transfers to be made public? Also, the common man will still be able to find out what went behind a government decision to clear, or not clear, a large dam project; what senior officials had to say about a report on resettlement and rehabilitation issues; the amount of money spent on building the neighbourhood road; the quality of water being delivered in the city, and so on.
But things are rarely what they might seem. The citizen’s access to critical information will now depend upon how “development and social issues” are defined. Naturally, citizens will seek to give it as broad a definition as possible, and the bureaucracy will seek to narrow the definition. The abrupt U-turn by the government on the stated policy of reducing tax sops by way of the new law on special economic zones (SEZ) is a good example. It is entirely likely that several bureaucrats, particularly from the ministry of finance, would have advanced sound reasons for opposing the policy, even giving estimates of the tax loss and the impact it would have on the tax-to-GDP ratio. Later, when the tussle was over the minimum size of such SEZs, a similar exercise would have taken place. For a citizen to get access to such records, however, it will have to be established that the development of an SEZ falls under “development and social issues”—which the government might argue excludes economic and business subjects, especially if there is something to hide.
Besides, how does one get the details of what went into the decision to allow the de-freezing of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattarochhi’s bank accounts—which is a criminal, legal or political matter, and cannot therefore come under the rubric of “development and social issues”. Such examples can be multiplied. For instance, would the details of the coffin scam, which is a defence matter, be made available even though there is nothing sensitive about the nature of the defence subject? In short, the government is seeking to hide more than it cares to admit.
The correct course would have been to specify the excluded categories and permit the disclosure of file notings in all other matters, rather than define the one area where file notings can be scrutinised. What the proposed amendment does, therefore, is to emaciate the RTI law and to drastically reduce its effectiveness. In the process, one of the best things to be done by the UPA government has been killed. The absence of Sonia Gandhi from the National Advisory Council, which was the prime mover of the RTI Act in its original form, is clearly being felt.
 
  Total Post : 2
http://www.righttoinformation.org
Last line well said!!! It was National Advisory Council under the guidance of Sonia Gandhi that brought in sound people friendly welfare measures, thereby bringing some amount of credibility for this government to exist.
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One Response to “RTI, RIP”

  1. P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh said

    SPECIFY ONLY THE EXCLUDED CATEGORIES TO STOP FILE NOTINGS FROM DISCLOSURE.

    Very well said lines are :’The correct course would have been to specify the excluded categories and permit the disclosure of file notings in all other matters, rather than define the one area where file notings can be scrutinised. What the proposed amendment does, therefore, is to emaciate the RTI law and to drastically reduce its effectiveness. In the process, one of the best things to be done by the UPA government has been killed. The absence of Sonia Gandhi from the National Advisory Council, which was the prime mover of the RTI Act in its original form, is clearly being felt.

    (Also very well highlighted by http://www.righttoinformation.org)
    Last line well said!!! It was National Advisory Council under the guidance of Sonia Gandhi that brought in sound people-friendly welfare measures, thereby bringing some amount of credibility for this government to exist.

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